Don Miller has caused quite a stir with his post about no longer “going to church.” After the stir, he posted a follow up which took a page out of Solomon’s playbook by stepping on the necks of his critics. It’s been a fun week.
I’ve found Miller to be a great provocateur and a nuanced thinker. He’s a craftsman with words and a fine speaker, but his two recent posts set me on edge, not because of self interest (one of his accusations), but because they contain so many straw men, caricatures and binary thoughts that I hardly know where to start.
So in brief, a Top 10 list in response to Don’s 2 articles:
1) Why the “either/or?” Very unDon like. Not Don-esque. Who in their right mind would argue that you can only connect with God at a church service? Ridiculous. I LOVE to worship God in the mountains and outside any form of church service. It is refreshing and necessary, but why does that preclude church community?
2) In the same vein, who believes that Jesus only works inside the church? No thinking person that I know. Jesus is alive and well and the state of his Kingdom is strong all over the world. I think Don’s former pastor, Rick McKinley wrote a book to that end. Don’s story about the wealthy philanthropist partnering with Jesus is wonderful. Don is careful to say he can’t reveal who it is, but I’m pretty sure his name rhymes with Bill Gates. It’s a beautiful story and I believe it’s true. It makes me want to raise my hands in worship this Sunday 🙂
3) Yes, the modern church has a lot of problems. No, it is not like the church in Acts. The church in Acts was hours/days/weeks/months old. And then time went on and the church changed. Nothing is like it was in its infancy. The modern church is flawed, messy and at times laughable. But it is beautiful and it is the Bride of Christ.
4) Big name Christian speakers don’t go to church? No problem. We’ve got plenty of widows with their mites to get us by.
5) Making yourself be in relationship with people you’d never choose on your own makes you learn something that you wouldn’t learn any other way. I mostly learn how selfish I am and how I do not like to be inconvenienced.
6) Claiming that the church is an effective business model is cynical. Sure, some churches’ “book-selling tails wag their worship service dogs,” but the great majority don’t. We really don’t gather people to try to get money out of them. We really do open the doors week after week for folks to connect with God and people in a meaningful way. And yes, of course that can happen outside the “typical” church service, no sensible person thinks otherwise.
7) On my first visit to Kenya, I watched our Kenyan friends worship like their life depended on it. Like worshipping in song was as important as air. I’ll never forget it and have never approached singing the same way since.
8) On a recent spiritual retreat at a Benedictine Monastery, I participated in the 7 worship services a day. (4:30am – 11pm. Wowzers.) They were completely foreign to my typical experience in that they were Gregorian Chant and high church liturgy. Not something I would typically choose. I can’t begin to describe the Peace of Christ in that experience and I realized that those Gregorians of old really knew something about melody, monotony and chant that connects the soul to God.
9) On the third day of my Benedictine retreat, struck by how much time 7 services per day takes, I asked one of the Nuns, “With all these worship services, when do you get your work done?” She looked at me with pity because she was in the presence of a moron. She replied, “Worship is our work.” Right. We don’t gather and worship out of duty or “because the Bible says to” or to “get something out of it.” We do it because it is one of the ways God frees us from ourselves, and centers us on him. It isn’t the only way or the best way. But Word and Sacrament have gotten us by for 2000 years. There really is something to it and there is something missing without it.
10) Finally, submitting yourself and your spirituality to something outside of you, your preference, your heart and way of thinking is a powerful experience of growth. Many times I don’t want to “go to church” and I’m the preacher! But I go. I feel the same way about my alarm clock. I don’t always want to get up, but I do.
I used to think all true spiritual connection came purely from the heart, but more recently I’ve experienced the power of external disciplines. Its like a scaffolding that keeps me up when I can no longer stand on my own. When I was plagued with doubts, I leaned on the belief of others for a while. When I’m down, I lean on my neighbor who is up. When life is incredible, I learn from another who is in deep pain. There must be a better phrase for it than scaffolding, but submitting myself to regular church participation is so full of surprise and challenge and the unexpected, along with the mundane and the boring and the minuscule, that it stretches my faith in ways I wouldn’t experience otherwise. I think this is partly why God commands that we do not give up the habit, because we need the scaffolding.
Anyway, clearly this lit a fire in me, which is the sign of a good provocateur. Don is one of the best and a necessary voice today, but the tone and arguments of his posts and his follow up reaction to good feedback prompted me to dust off the blog.